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Warriors’ Draymond Green clashes with Suns’ Jusuf Nurkic — ‘Never backing down’


SAN FRANCISCO — After hooking a shot in over Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green in the third quarter Saturday night, Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic slapped the floor twice and taunted Green with the “too small” gesture.

Just two minutes later, Green returned the favor.

With just Nurkic between him and the hoop, Green quickly backed Nurkic down and scooped the ball up over his head into the basket. Immediately, he smacked the ground just as Nurkic had.

“You can’t be a nothing defender if you’re going to do that,” Green said or Nurkic. “You probably outweigh me by 70 pounds and you get put in the rim? Got to be more careful.”

The Warriors’ 113-112 win was the first time Golden State and the Suns faced off since Dec. 12, when Green punched Nurkic in the head and earned an indefinite suspension that ultimately sidelined him for 12 games.

Part of the criteria for Green’s reinstatement was going through counseling and proving to his team and the league that he had learned how to manage his behavior.

Nurkic said Saturday night that Green clearly hadn’t done so.

“It’s sad. He didn’t learn anything,” Nurkic said after the game. “Just a matter of time. He’s going to hit somebody else again. Take back everything I said. He don’t deserve a chance.”

When told of Nurkic’s remarks at his postgame news conference, Green took a moment before he responded.

“I thought I was great tonight,” Green said with a smile. “He tried to get in my head, and it didn’t work. If he wants me to walk around quiet like him, I’m never going to do that. Quiet guys don’t win … He can keep rocking with that same horse that he rode in on. He can ride his ass right out of here on that same horse. It’s not working.”

Nurkic’s remarks trickled throughout the Warriors’ locker room, prompting chuckles and head shakes. Stephen Curry called the comments “idiotic.”

To the Warriors, Green’s antics and how he balanced them Saturday were the strongest evidence yet that he has changed.

“That month off, that suspension was real,” Kerr said. “[Draymond] knew that his career was on the line or is on the line. … He understands that he’s got to be the guy he’s been the last nine years, not the one he’s been the last year. I see him doing that.”

Before the game, Kerr said that he didn’t want Green to be a “goody two shoes,” saying that if Green wasn’t going to bring his fire, they might as well not play him. But Green’s availability is his most important asset.

Against the Suns, he finished with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, nine assists and seven rebounds in one of his best two-way performances of the season.

“He’s given us a lift every game he’s been back,” Curry said. “He connects, obviously, our defense, but you can talk about his defense every game. What he did offensively tonight, especially in the fourth quarter … he gave us great energy in the sense of having that competitive spirit you need to win a game like tonight, to meet the moment.”

Added Curry: “Draymond knows how to walk the line that he needs to walk. This is probably the best game that you’ve seen it.”

Green and Nurkic got chippy with one another early on, exchanging words four minutes into the first quarter after a foul was called on Green.

A few seconds later, Nurkic posted up on Green and was called for an offensive foul. Green responded by flexing on Nurkic before running down to the other end of the court and gesturing by knocking on his head twice.

“They called a foul on the post-up and he started talking,” Green said. “Never backing down from that. I like that type of action.”

Asked about the gesture after Nurkic’s offensive foul, Green said, “I was calling him a dummy when I was pointing to my head. I wasn’t saying I was keeping my head. I was saying, you can’t start talking and then charge into me. That’s not smart.”

With eight minutes to go in the third quarter, Green got assessed his first technical foul since his suspension for stomping his foot in frustration after a no-call.

But to Curry, it was the “too small” gesture that shifted the momentum in Green’s favor.

“You can tell when someone is in your head when you go out of your way to celebrate,” Curry said. “Then Draymond comes back at him. All of the talk, Draymond was in his head, plain and simple.”

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